Do you like swimming?: How to form questions in English

by Liz Walter

ChiccoDodiFC/iStock/Getty Images Plus
ChiccoDodiFC/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Questions are a basic part of our conversations, but they are quite difficult in English. Many students make mistakes with them. Here are some basic rules to make your questions correct.

Let’s start with questions that have a simple answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

For all verbs except ‘to be’, we use do and the infinitive form of another verb to make present simple and past simple questions. The word order is do/does + subject + infinitive:

            Do you like cheese?

            Does Oscar have any brothers or sisters?

            Did you visit the Taj Mahal while you were in India?

A very common mistake is to forget that the second verb must be in the infinitive:

            Does Oscar has any brothers or sisters?

With the verb ‘to be’, we don’t use do. Instead, we put the verb at the beginning of the sentence. Note that this is a different word order from a statement:

            Tom is a teacher. (statement)

            Is Tom a teacher? (question)

            Arianne was late. (statement)

            Was Arianne late? (question)

For all other tenses, we make yes/no questions by putting the auxiliary verbs (be or have) or the modal verb (can, will etc) at the beginning of the question:

            Boris has been to Rome. (statement)

            Has Boris been to Rome? (question)

            Ute was mending her bike. (statement)

            Was Ute mending her bike? (question)

            Pablo can drive. (statement)

            Can Pablo drive? (question)

Of course, we often want to ask questions that cannot be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For these we need the question words: who, what, when, where, why, which and how.

These question words go at the beginning of the question, and the rest of the question is formed in the same way as for yes/no questions:

            When does the movie start?

            How do these machines work?

            Where are Luke and Hannah?

            Why has Marie put her coat on?

Questions words – especially who, what and which – can be used as the subject of a sentence. When this happens, you do not need to use ‘do’.

            Who made this cake?

            Who did make this cake?

            Which teacher gives you the best grades?

            Which teacher does give you the best grades?

How is used with other words to make a lot of common questions:

            How old are you?

            How far is the station?

            How many friends did you invite?

            How much did that cost?

            How long did the journey take?

And finally, if you want to ask the meaning of a word, do not say any of the following, which I hear much too often in my classes!

            What means [pristine/audience/inept etc.]?

            What does it mean [pristine/audience/inept etc.]?

            What [pristine/audience/inept etc.] means?

The question you need is this:

            What does [pristine/audience/inept etc.] mean?

Learn it and make your teacher happy!

34 thoughts on “Do you like swimming?: How to form questions in English

  1. Pingback: Do you like swimming?: How to form questions in English | Editorials Today

  2. Pingback: Do you like swimming?: How to form questions in English – Cambridge Dictionary About words blog (Dec 07, 2016) | Editorial Words

  3. Dear Ms Liz Walter,

    I highly appreciate your article on /about “How to form questions in English” as I´m taking my relatives to English. . By the way, I would be thankful to Cambridge Dictionary when you could put your section “Speaker Guide” online.

    Best regards,
    Anh Van Nguyen

    1. Dear Ms Liz Walter,

      I highly appreciate your article on /about “How to form questions in English” as I´m taking my relatives to English. . By the way, I would be thankful to Cambridge Dictionary when you could put your section “Speaker Guide” online.

      Best regards,
      Anh Van Nguyen

  4. Pingback: Do you like swimming?: How to form questions in English – shukrimahmoodmohamed

  5. Shraddha

    Very helpful article.
    Thank you!
    Recently I hear too much often the following sentence type
    ‘Why you no reply?’ (Isn’t “Why don’t you reply?” correct?)
    ‘You like cakes, right?’

    1. Liz Walter

      You are correct that ‘Why don’t you reply?’ is correct. ‘You like cakes, right?’ is fine in informal, spoken English. I’d say it’s slightly more common in American than British English,

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